Re: "Changing Colors," Winter 2007

It may be of interest to VQ readers to reflect on the sustainability of our green commitment. Although the world seems in 2007 finally to have woken up to environmental threats such as global warming, this could be termed as more of a reawakening. In 1989, the year in which Timemagazine memorably accompanied the title feature “Planet of the Year” with a holographic image of an exploding earth, the environment was also a huge issue of public concern. Under the motto of “Waste Not,” a group of environmentally active Vassar students ran a successful series of events, including an exhibition in the College Center, on issues such as recycling, global warming, population growth, and rainforest destruction. Going back further a generation to 1972 I can well imagine that the Club of Rome Report also acted as a stimulus for environmental activism on the campus.

The rise and fall in environmental awareness reflects how difficult it is for us as individuals to sustain the high levels of idealism and integrity which are necessary to make a difference. Institutions such as Vassar can make a unique contribution via curriculum and communication, by ensuring that we are taking a sustainable lead on this issue and not merely following trends.

Ben Horsbrugh ’89
Oldenburg, Germany

Another Vassar Vet's Perspective

Ralph LoCascio’s ’50 novel Vassar Outlander [“Books Noted,” Fall 2007] is clearly one man’s perspective, and it is unlikely it represents some sort of generic Vassar Vet’s view, I think. It certainly was mostly not mine; although an occasional detail reminded me of some personal observations, such as the clear hostility of some of the older faculty in psychology to males, but not the younger and probably untenured. Some Vassar faculty welcomed the male perspective, and if we want to comment on the positive I could mention many such faculty: Frances Foster, Anne Kendall Scowcroft, and John Christie in English; Maud Makemson in astronomy; Gordon Post in political science; Catherine Wolkonsky in Russian; and Edna MacMahon in economics. Some other women were uncomfortable with the men, and some could not make eye contact with a male in class. A small number of closeted gay men on the faculty were confused about their responses. It was, after all, the ’40s and long before Stonewall.

However, Ralph’s individual response to the Vassar academic world was probably being at least partially replicated in colleges across the country as the G.I. Bill® took in masses of World War II veterans who had never dreamed of college, nor been prepared for it in their secondary schools. Both colleges and the veterans were under this unexpected pressure.

I believe it was heightened at Vassar in the ’40s by the fact that some women students at the time were also guilty of stereotyping some of the men, either because of class perspective or because of the somewhat sheltered life of the all-girl boarding or WASP prep school at that time experienced by many of the traditional women students. There was clearly a cultural shock, exacerbated on both sides by stereotyping.

There were, of course, different stresses for the veterans who had either had some college experience before or during service or who had prepared themselves with college prep programs in their secondary education. Returning to the role of student after the sobering adult experiences of war, death, and destruction was clearly personally disturbing at times. Higher educations, however, did not present such a foreign experience for these men and a few women since there were — mostly unnoticed — women vets at Vassar during the 1946 to 1950 period. Some faculty, like Ida Treat Bergeret, encouraged both male and female students to recognize the importance of the particular wartime experiences, as well as the values of the varied cultural understandings/expectations that could be brought to the campus and one’s education.

Ralph’s research has been thorough and accurate concerning the general times and the Vassar events as recorded in the archives and elsewhere. He makes some interesting connections to Vassar and the times. You can see the scholarly evidence of the academic approach to his doctoral field of clinical psychology. He certainly communicates effectively the pain and frustrations of living with the kind of bigotry that he describes. One must admire that skill at local color.

However, I guess my prime response to Ralph’s novel is to repeat that it was one man’s life, college, and otherwise, just as every war is one man’s war, even though battles are fought by multitudes. Think Red Badge of Courage.

Howard Winn ’50
Poughkeepsie, New York

Re: "Buried Treasures," Winter 2007

Buried Treasures
Buried Treasures

Matthew’s other mug [Warwick Vase replica, p. 15] is not a spittoon and was probably meant to hold a plant. Certainly, Matthew Vassar would not have a spittoon featured so prominently in his portrait. The Warwick Vase has been uppermost in my mind lately. The Warwick Vase was design inspiration for two large, stunning, silver vases (with added lids) presented in 1824 to Dewitt Clinton upon completion of the Erie Canal. They belong to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City (where I have been a volunteer guide for 39 years!) and are featured in the current American Wing exhibit Fletcher & Gardiner: Silversmiths to the Nation.

Kay Olson Freeman ’59
New York, New York

Good News For The New Year!

To our Vassar Family: First of all, THANK YOU SO VERY MUCH for your unwavering encouragement and support. As recipients of the 2007 AAVC Spirit of Vassar Award, we treasure the honor and have wonderful memories of our time at the reunion. The article in the Vassar Quarterly [“Rebuilding New Orleans,” Fall 2007] helped to further highlight our needs and efforts. We have heard from alums both near and far who are joining with us in our work to educate our city’s underprivileged children. With that said, we are happy to report that in December 2007 the Louisiana State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education approved our nonprofit for a charter! Beginning in August of this year, we will be operating the Crocker Arts and Technology School, an elementary public charter school. A special thank you to Olga Guardia Smoak ’61 and Shaun Barkley Rafferty ’76 for their continued service as members of our board. To learn more about our nonprofit, Advocacy for the Arts and Technology in New Orleans, Louisiana, Inc., we encourage you to visit our website, www.atnola.com, and join with us in making a difference in our children’s lives and in this city’s rebirth.

We are also glad to report that the work to rebuild our church has begun, in spite of the severe obstacles that have hampered the church’s ability to operate when the congregation is scattered. At least 70 percent of the pre-Katrina membership is still displaced in other parts of the state and country, and other challenges exist; but we are able to hold services in a borrowed sanctuary, and our faith is strong. We are hoping to reenter our sanctuary in about two to three months.

Rev. Dr. Robert B. Jackson ’77 
Grisela Alejandro Jackson ’78 

New Orleans, Louisiana